Crossing their arts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2011, 12:00am

Singapore's latest lotus-shaped addition to its skyline and museum scene is unabashed about its mission to entertain.

'We want people to come here and have a good time,' says Tom Zaller, director of the ArtScience Museum. The Moshe Safdie-designed, privately funded museum at Marina Bay Sands officially opened the doors to its total of 50,000 sq ft of galleries last month - to great fanfare. And as part of its inauguration, it has lined up four exhibitions, including one on Genghis Khan, another on The Silk Road and another of Tang-dynasty maritime treasures.

Explaining his vision for the museum, Zaller says: 'To me, all museums are a form of entertainment... It's about having a good experience at the end of the day.

'Our staff is friendly, you understand where you're going, the content is rich and scholarly to the point that's digestible, and we deliver it in a way that's comfortable. You don't feel as though you need to have a [doctorate] in an area just to understand the content.'

Zaller is a veteran of the exhibitions and entertainment industry, having worked on travelling projects such as Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, Bodies: The Exhibition, Star Trek: The Exhibition and Dialogue In The Dark, in which blind or visually-impaired guides take visitors through different settings in absolute darkness.

'The connotation is that museums are dusty and boring. But we are going to try to give it [the experience] to you in a way that's immersive,' adds the 38-year-old father of two.

The exhibitions are aimed at a target audience 'aged from two to 82', and 80 per cent of the displays will be travelling or rotating, rather than permanent.

'While [many] other museums start with a donation, we didn't; we started with a concept. The idea was to go out to as many institutions and museums in the world and develop new content. We want people to go to the museum on a regular basis. We want to continue to be fresh,' Zaller says.

New shows are expected to arrive at the museum every three to six months, although the director is reluctant to reveal future plans. Zaller, who heads a team of 60 full-time staff at the museum, is already planning the museum's 2013/14 programme.

Rather than competing with Singapore's National Heritage Board-run museums, the ArtScience Museum is looking at ways to collaborate. People have been 'very supportive in town', Zaller says.

The other 20 per cent of the museum's exhibition space houses the 'Curiosity', 'Inspiration' and 'Expression' permanent galleries that showcase the evolution of important creative ideas, ranging from Leonardo da Vinci's flying machine to Kongming lanterns and ancient Chinese scrolls. They also pay tribute to great 'art scientists' such as China's Lu Ban and the museum's own Israeli-American architect, Safdie.

'It's a very complicated building,' Zaller says, adding that it's great to be in such an iconic structure.

Housing 21 galleries, it comprises 10 'fingers' - structures that curve upwards; the tallest is 60 metres - that have skylights at their 'fingertips'.

The fingers are mostly made of fibreglass-reinforced polymer, a material typically used in high-performance racing yachts. Surrounded by a 4,000 square metre lily pond, the building 'floats' over a terrace with commanding views of the bay. Green features include a roof that allows rainwater to be harvested and channelled down through the building's centre to a reflecting pond. The rainwater is then redirected to create a cylindrical waterfall, and recycled for use in the washrooms.

Zaller says the skylights provide plenty of natural light in the galleries if needed. 'That's a great option when you want it. Often, I like to shut the light out. Some museums don't have the option.'